Taglines: Inspired by the most notorious unsolved murder in California history.
In 1946, the former boxers Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert and Lee Blanchard are policemen in Los Angeles. Lee has a good relationship with his chief and uses a box fight between them to promote the department and get a raise to the police force. They succeed and are promoted to homicide detectives, working together.
Bucky becomes a close friend of Lee and his girlfriend Kay Lake, forming a triangle of love. When the corpse of the aspirant actress ‘Elizabeth Short’ is found mutilated, Lee becomes obsessed to solve the case called by the press Black Dahlia. Meanwhile, Bucky’s investigation leads him to a Madeleine Linscott, the daughter of a powerful and wealthy constructor that resembles the Black Dahlia. In an environment of corruption and lies, Bucky discloses hidden truths.
The Black Dahlia is set in 1940s Los Angeles. Two cops, Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and his partner, Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), investigate the death of Elizabeth Short, a young woman found brutally murdered. Bucky soon realizes that his girlfriend had ties to the deceased, and soon after that, he begins uncovering corruption and conspiracy within the police department.
Master storyteller Brian De Palma, known for such classic crime dramas as “The Untouchables,” “Scarface” and “Carlito’s Way,” as well as his suspense thrillers “Carrie,” “Dressed to Kill” and “Blow Out,” directs this adaptation of James Ellroy’s (“L.A. Confidential,” “American Tabloid”) best-selling crime novel. The film weaves a fictionalized tale of obsession, love, corruption, greed and depravity around the true story of the brutal murder of a fledgling Hollywood starlet that shocked and fascinated the nation in 1947 and remains unsolved today.
The Black Dahlia is a 2006 French-American neo-noir crime thriller film directed by Brian De Palma and written by Josh Friedman. It is drawn from the novel of the same name by James Ellroy and stars Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank. The widely sensationalized murder of Elizabeth Short inspired both the novel and the film.
The film was screened at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival on August 30, 2006. Despite its failure both critically and financially, it was nominated for Best Cinematography at the 79th Academy Awards, losing to Pan’s Labyrinth. Mia Kirshner’s performance as Short was also widely praised.
The film opened on September 15, 2006 in 2,226 theaters and came in second place over its opening weekend (behind fellow newcomer Gridiron Gang), with $10 million. It ended its theatrical run after domestically grossing $22.5 million in North America and $27.8 million in foreign countries for a global total of $49.3 million, against a budget of $50 million.
Possessing the Black Dahlia
“Who are these men who feed on others? What do they feel when they cut their name into somebody else’s life?” — Detective Bucky Bleichert
Elizabeth “Betty” Short was born July 29, 1924, in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. Like many young aspiring actresses in boom-era World War II, she was chasing a big dream: to make it in Hollywoodland. At the age of 19, she headed west to California, bouncing from her father’s home in Vallejo to the city of Santa Barbara before heading south to L.A. During her time in the city, her tale briefly reads like that of many an ingénue.
She auditioned for a number of screen tests, lived for a time at the Chancellor Arms Apartments and was rumored to have frequented hotspots like the Pig & Whistle on Hollywood Blvd., the Formosa Café on Santa Monica Blvd. and the Biltmore Hotel on Grand Ave. Indeed, it was at this very hotel, on January 9, 1947, that Betty was allegedly meeting a gentleman friend. It was the last time she would be seen alive.
Because of Betty’s raven hair, her penchant for dressing in black, habit of wearing a beautiful flower in her hair and the 1946 release of the Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake film The Blue Dahlia, she was given a nickname to tease her in life and own her in death. People became fascinated with her lurid tale, one seemingly plucked straight out of a Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett novel. Indeed, most who became involved with the case became obsessed with either saving or trashing the Dahlia’s reputation.
The gruesome murder of the young girl took Hollywood and the country by storm in 1947. The entertainment capital was filled with mob bosses, dirty studio executives, corrupt cops and people willing and ready to take advantage of a young woman…and the juicy details of her murder. For months, the L.A. Examiner, Los Angeles Times and every rag that could make up or scrape up a story about Betty splashed headlines below their mastheads—from “Who Killed Betty Short?” to “Black Purse, Shoes: Hot Dahlia Leads.” Hers would become a story of Hollywood legend…and occupy one young boy’s imagination for a lifetime.
Betty entered the mind of novelist James Ellroy when he was just a child. Only 11 years old when he received Jack Webb’s crime anthology, “The Badge,” from his father, the L.A. native was entranced by Webb’s 10-page summary of Elizabeth Short’s demise. His mother, Jean Hilliker, had been strangled only months before in a brutal (and to this day unsolved) crime, and the boy’s inability to openly grieve her death transferred into an obsession with the Dahlia.
Ellroy, like many others before and since, would chase the story of this iconic Hollywood girl for years. He recalls, “I bike-tripped to the Central Library. I scanned the Dahlia case on microfilm and gorged myself on vanished L.A. I time-tripped ’59 to ’47 L.A. I made L.A.-now L.A.-then. I began to live in the dual L.A. that I’ve lived in ever since.”
In fact, Ellroy would wait to write his seventh novel—the first of his L.A. quartet—1987’s “The Black Dahlia,” until he “built story-telling muscle” with his earlier works, “Brown’s Requiem,” “Clandestine,” “Blood on the Moon” and “Suicide Hill.” The author admits he “needed to brace myself for life in L.A. ’47.”
For Ellroy, the Dahlia wouldn’t rest with the end of his book. He would go on to write a 1996 novel entitled “My Dark Places,” a memoir of his mother’s 1958 murder. “I had to go through a very long journey with Elizabeth Short and write ‘The Black Dahlia’ before I could get to my mother. Elizabeth Short was always the fictional stand-in for my mother. And my mother and she transmogrified, it was quite a heady brew. They are as one, in my mind, much of the time.”
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The Black Dahlia (2006)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Mia Kirshner, Hilary Swank, Fiona Shaw, Mike Starr, Patrick Fischler, John Kavanagh, Anthony Russell, Rachel Miner
Screenplay by: Josh Friedman
Production Design by: Dante Ferretti
Cinematography by: Vilmos Zsigmond
Film Editing by: Bill Pankow
Costume Design by: Jenny Beavan
Set Decoration by: Elli Griff
Art Direction by: Christopher Tandon
Music by: Mark Isham
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and language.
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: September 15, 2006